Heather Van Essen


The Lost Art of Placemaking: A Fresh Desire to Experience Diverse Community

#YOLO, seize the day, now or never. No matter the generation, there has been a consistent desire to live life to the fullest. Millennials are known to live in the moment, preferring mixed-use, place-made, walkable districts that offer a unique experience rather than mere product procurement from typical big-box retailers and strip malls. Boomers are now showing a similar preference for lifestyles enriched by integrated public spaces and amenities, a departure from the segregated urban planning of yesteryear. This kind of #Placemaking is at the heart of #NewUrbanism, which seeks to connect neighbors to each other and to basic goods and services through walkable streets, close proximity, and a variety of shared public spaces. Imprint Architects has been a leading advocate of New Urbanism in #CentralIowa, helping develop the master plan for #PrairieTrail, designing nearly all of the #CommercialCore buildings and tenants spaces, and designing many single-family and multi-family residences. 

Cohousing neighborhoods, which are often components of new urbanist developments, further emphasize community, family, and sense of belonging, and are often #MasterPlanned around a central theme. In his design thesis project, Imprint Architects’ Nick Massmann studied, analyzed, and proposed a holistically sustainable cohousing community that integrates strategies to address increasing population; social ailment; declining climate, food, and water; energy resource depletion; and economic hardships.

A similar sustainably-themed cohousing community is Iowa City Cohousing‘s #PrairieHill. This neighborhood balances jointly-owned community amenities and privately-owned residences to promote #wellness for a socially, economically, and generationally diverse community. Prairie Hill includes 36 #EcoFriendly residences, community gardens and orchards, and a common house. The common house is the heart of the community where there are plenty of opportunities for chance encounters with neighbors coming and going from the many shared amenities such as the dining room, kitchen, living room, playroom, laundry room, activity room, and coworking office. Residences range from studios to 2-bedroom units.

The centerpiece of an agriculturally-themed cohousing community, or #Agrihood, is a working farm and/or community gardens. Middlebrook Farm in Cumming, IA is an Agri-hood that’s leveraging its “agricultural past to create future prosperity” through a community where families can be raised, memories created and dreams achieved. Teaming with Diligent Development, MiddleBrook will include 45 acres of #CommunityFarm and open space with a town garden, neighborhood community gardens, and a farm store & cafe. A wide variety of residences will be available from apartments, townhomes, and senior living to single-family homes and high-end estates. Future expansions include an orchard, winery, and greenhouse.

The love for place-made shared spaces and amenities emphasizing unique experiences is on the rise as people of all ages realize a deepening desire for community and vibrant places. Imprint Architects are Central Iowa’s local experts of New Urbanism and cohousing, committed to advancing a built environment that enriches the lives of its residents and visitors through walkable streets, close proximity to basic goods and services, and a variety of shared public spaces.

About the author
Heather Van Essen

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Heather Van Essen is an Interior Designer at Imprint Architects. In this role, Heather recognizes that creating an experience for the user is important for human interaction within a space, and she works to help guide architectural designs with this in mind. At home, Heather leads a family of five (including 3 pets!) so spending time together in between the chaos of daily responsibilities is where her heart lies.